The Odd Couple of Philosophy: A Play About Arendt and Heidegger
October 11, 2018
Despite their incompatible viewpoints, two of the 20th century’s greatest philosophers—Martin Heidegger and Hannah Arendt—maintained a lifelong relationship, first as lovers and later as friends. Yet, it’s puzzling how Arendt, a Jew and one of the seminal writers on morality, could continue being so close to Heidegger, who famously supported the Nazis ahead of World War II and never publicly denounced them after it.
Philosophy professor and playwright Douglas Lackey sought to unpack that question in his new play, Arendt-Heidegger: A Love Story. “Philosophical problems cannot be solved,” Lackey said in an interview. “But they can be dramatized.”
Lackey’s play not only examines Arendt’s and Heidegger’s philosophies—specifically tracing Heidegger’s career across three distinct phases—but also takes care to concentrate on the intense sexual and intellectual chemistry that bonded them. The pair began their romantic affair in the mid-1920s, when 19-year-old Arendt studied under the married 36-year-old Heidegger at university. World War II divided them, with Arendt fleeing Germany, but once the war ended, she struck up a correspondence with Heidegger that would last until shortly before his death in 1976.
While Heidegger’s choices have come to overshadow his contributions to philosophy, Lackey proposes that Arendt saw “the charismatic teacher, the intriguing student of the human condition, the lover of art and poetry.” They were “the oddest couple in the history of odd couples,” he wrote.
“Here we have the budding Zionist on the one side, and the unrepentant Nazi on the other,” Lackey added. “What could they have possibly said to each other? Did the philosophy Heidegger developed before Arendt’s eyes in the classroom in the 1920’s lead straight on to Auschwitz in the 1940’s? Was the Nazi episode an aberration, or was it a deep expression of Heidegger’s nature? To get the answer, you must get both the man and the philosophy, and to get that, you should see the play.”
Arendt-Heidegger: A Love Story is currently in production at Theater for the New City. It ends its run on Sunday, October 14.
(Reprinted from CUNY’s SUM website)